By Dr. Steven Derfler
One of the major points of contention between Israel and the Arab/Moslem World is over the most sacred piece of real estate on the planet. At 37 acres, the Temple Mount is the focal point of prayer and contention for the three western religious traditions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While Christianity has Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem vying for spiritual ‘seniority’, and Islam has Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, Judaism has Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, and Jerusalem.
However, traditionally, the role of the holy city, and in particular the Temple Mount, has been widely, if not grudgingly, recognized in importance by each of these traditions to the other.
It has only been in the last century, a result of ‘a Twice Promised Land’ coming out of World War One (ok, blame it on the British!) that we find disinformation and the re-writing of history taking place. But the greatest activity has taken place in the 21st Century.
The Waqf, the Islamic religious authority that was granted control of the Temple Mount by Israel decades ago, decided to ‘remodel’ a series of stables beneath the Mount, create a mosque, and then an internal entry from just north of the Al Aqsa plaza. In doing so, tons of debris, filled with archaeological treasures pertaining to the history of the Temple Mt, were unceremoniously dumped with no regard for context into the Kidron Valley; all in spite of Israeli law that forbade such activity unless overseen by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
To make matters worse, many stones, some dating to the Tenth Century BCE, were re-used and modified for their building activity.
Archaeologist Eilat Mazar said: “There is disappointment at the turning of a blind eye and the ongoing contempt for the tremendous archaeological importance of the Temple Mount . Using heavy machinery and with little documentation, can damage ancient relics and erase evidence of the presence of the biblical structures. Any excavation, even if for technical reasons, must be documented, photographed and the dirt sifted for any remains of relics.” Dr. Gabi Barkai slammed the way the excavations were being carried out stating that “They should be using a toothbrush, not a bulldozer”.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, rejected the Israeli charges. “We don’t harm the antiquities, we are the ones who are taking care of the antiquities, unlike others who destroy them.” Yusuf Natsheh of the Islamic Waqf argued that “remains unearthed would be from the 16th or 17th century Ottoman period”. He said al-Aqsa compound as an important religious institution. “We regret some Israeli groups try to use archaeology to achieve political ends, but their rules of archaeology do not apply to the Haram; it is a living religious site in an occupied land.”
In 2004, debris was transferred to camps set up at Tzurim Valley National Park, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. Here a sifting project was begun; and over the years the Temple Mount debris dump in the Kidron Valley was moved to the sifting site (a total of 322 truckloads, to date).
Objects testifying to the Jewish nature of the Temple Mount platform were dismissed by the Waqf. The Waqf was widely accused of attempting to hide evidence of the existence of the Jewish Temples, which many Palestinian leaders say never existed. That debate continued to rage. “The Aqsa Mosque was an Islamic mosque since the world was created,” said Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, in November, 2015. “It was never anything other than a mosque.
However, this flew in the face of what Islamic leaders said themselves about the Temple Mount earlier in the 20th Century.
But prior to 1948, even their own 1925 Wakf guidebook stated that the Dome of the Rock is situated on the universally accepted site of King Solomon’s Temple. “The site is one of the oldest in the world… its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.”
Abbas himself called Israeli history in Jerusalem “illusions and legends” and “delusional myths,” referring to the “alleged Temple.”
The destructive partisan biases in UNESCO were clearly evidenced in the fall of 2016, as it would vote to ratify a resolution denying Jewish ties to Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount. An affront to science and history, the resolution, which refers to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al-Haram Al-Sharif – ostensibly eliminating its connection to Judaism and Christianity – was expected to be approved by the committee comprised of 21 member states at its 40th session.
As UNESCO approved a resolution that ignored a Jewish connection to The Temple Mount, the Israel Antiquities Authority produced a rare papyrus fragment from the 7th century BCE, written in ancient Hebrew; that mentions Jerusalem. Archaeologists interpreted 2 lines of text as a shipping document reading, “From the king’s maidservant, from Na’arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”
And even more importantly Israeli archaeologists revealed the existence of an ancient Muslim inscription testifying to the fact that the original name of the Dome of the Rock, Qubbat al-Sakhrah, was “Beit al Maqdis” بيت المقدس — “Beit Hamikdash” in Hebrew, aka the Jewish Temple — during the early Muslim era, Makor Rishon reported Friday. According to archaeologists Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven, the inscription is dated to the 10th century CE.
It’s time for the western world, Jews, Christians and Moslems of good faith, to recognize the sanctity and legitimacy of the Temple Mount for all religious traditions, and accept the archaeological, historical and spiritual record with dignity and respect.